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Wales Has to Plan for a Full-Fibre Future Now

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The director of Cardiff Capital Region, Kellie Beirne, says the experience of lockdown shows the importance of planning for a full-fibre future in which every home and business has access to the best possible broadband connections.

Speaking in the latest Wales Business Review, the weekly podcast hosted by Carwyn Jones and featured on Business News Wales, Kellie Beirne said the region and the nation generally had to be “much more muscular” in its ambition when it comes to developing digital infrastructure.

Ms Beirne added that it would not necessarily require a large public investment either, but it would require a need to embrace more providers and bring together more of a mixed economy approach. She said:

“I think there’s a really active commercial market. This is what pension companies and other long-term institutional investors are looking to put their money into over the next 25 years. So I think there’s a real enabling instrumental role for the public sector in directing that kind of investment.”

She said there needed to be thought about developing digital infrastructure in rural areas, where there are not going to be the same commercial incentives, and about how 5G technology impacts the food and farming sectors and retail.

“How can the knowledge economy meet the foundational economy, I think that’s a really interesting question,” she said.

She added that whatever happens with the region’s transport infrastructure in the wake of the lockdown, digital infrastructure had to be considered as a fourth utility.

“We’ve got to make sure this is in as a key enabler as soon as we possibly can, it’s an absolute priority from our perspective,” she said.

Also on the Wales Business Review was Wayne Harvey, CBI Wales chair and senior partner at Deloitte, who said the experience of millions of people working from home, and businesses trading online, showed that digital infrastructure was as fundamental as the supply of the water and sewerage system was in the Victorian era.

He said:

“It’s incumbent on the state and private sector to deliver that; we need to have an absolutely world class digital infrastructure, not only in Wales but across the UK. It’s vital for business, vital for individuals and for education, we shouldn’t forget that.

“It’s a real opportunity, I hope it’s grasped. It will be expensive, but we are in some respects leaders in some of this technology, as a combined UK, so why shouldn’t we take advantage of that?

“Let’s not forget as well that one of the key learnings of the past 200 years is that when you come out of difficult times, the state and private sector have to combine and invest in great public works, and I think digital infrastructure could be a fantastic public work.”

During the 30-minute video/podcast Kellie Beirne and Wayne Harvey also discussed the how the economy will recover from the lockdown, the practicality of reshoring, and which industries will emerge as winners and losers.